On Sunday, members of nearly 300 civil rights organizations, community and student groups, labor unions, churches, and professional associations will lead a Silent March Against Racial Profiling to End Stop and Frisk in Harlem. The protest has done much to draw attention to the controversial policing tactic over the last few weeks, inspiring a wide array of articles, videos, and even an Android App. ILFA's position on stop-and-frisk policing, which the NYPD claims is an essential violence-prevention strategy, will be known to frequent readers, but to be clear, I stand with those who argue that stop and frisk, as currently practiced by the NYPD, is an unconstitutional exercise in racial profiling that pulls young men into the vicious circle of the criminal justice system, racializes spaces (including, of course, gentrifying neighborhoods), and creates an atmosphere of mutual distrust and antagonism between police and African-American and Hispanic communities that serves to hinder, not aid, substantive policing. From a practical standpoint, I think the costs far outweigh the benefits, and from a moral standpoint, I think a quick perusal of any Warren Court decision is a good reminder that the 14th Amendment is still on the books and Jim Crow is indefensible (yes, I mean that). But my own repetitive ramblings aside, here are some interesting pieces on stop-and-frisk from the past week and beyond:
- The Silent Protest, as a tactic, has a long history in the struggle for Civil Rights, particularly in New York City.
- The New York Times ran an excellent "Op-Doc" (if it sounds like hospital shorthand, you need a new name - the Post would clearly call these "Reel Opinions" or some such) on one young man's harrowing encounters with stop and frisk, which cited his involvement Make the Road New York as an important source of pride and empowerment in the face of these experiences
- I linked this video a few months back, but it's worth reposting: The WNYC Radio Rookies (local teens) take on stop and frisk.
- The Root ran a thoughtful piece by the son of a retired NYPD officer who supports stop and frisk, while many other officers spoke with the Village Voice, sharing a range of opinions.
- Local journalist and blogger Zachary Goelman took a long and careful look at stop and frisk and the results it produces back in December.
- Local blogger and activist Bobby Constantino spent much of the spring on a one-man crusade against stop and frisk that, by his own admission, made him wonder if he was crazy. While much of his solitary action was certainly unorthodox, I'm inclined to think his feeling disturbed is at least partly due to the manifest problems with the tactic.
- This is slightly off-topic but related: Bed-Stuy Patch reports that a skywatch has just gone up on Bedford Avenue at Clifton, casting its 70s-futuristic-police-state eye over a strip that looks a lot like Franklin did a few years ago (when we had one of our own in front of Nam's). Connected as they are with the Kelly-Bloomberg (or Bratten-Giuliani, if you prefer) school of policing (impact zones, stop and frisk, zero-tolerance, tech-happy), it's worth reflecting, as do several of those who commented on the post, as to what purpose these high-tech toys ($130,000 taxpayer dollars a pop) serve. Do they reduce crime or just displace it? Who feels safer when they see a skywatch (certainly not ewoks) - do they comfort some folks and intimidate others? Do they have a habit of showing up in high-crime areas, rapidly-changing areas, or both?
- Finally, I should make it clear that while I'm opposed to stop and frisk and deeply skeptical of the goals of high-visibility, high-publicity policing stunts, I recognize that policing is an extremely tough, if not impossible, job and that it's incumbent upon those of us who criticize the NYPD to offer suggestions and strategies for preventing and reducing crime without taking shortcuts down the slippery slopes of profiling and civil liberties abuses. So, to close, I offer one of ILFA's very favorite neighborhood organizations, SOS Crown Heights, as a model that we can all learn from and emulate, one that has made a significant impact on violent crime in Crown Heights not by criminalizing Black youth, but by empowering them and putting their talents to work. There will never be one solution or an easy answer, of course, but policing that treats communities as resources in the struggle against violence, and not as enemies, is an important first step.